ShopChat Comes Out of Stealth with a Mobile Shopping Keyboard

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People like to shop, and people like to share their experiences with friends. Today, ShopChat debuts its effort to combine those two activities in a service that marketers and brands can leverage to attract more sales.

ShopChat’s mobile shopping keyboard, which officially launched today, works with messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and Apple iMessage, letting users find and share pictures of products through their smartphones with their friends. Those friends can then give feedback, including emojis, and recommendations about the products. It is a blend of e-commerce and communication that has been attempted in different ways by other companies with mixed results.

ShopChat CEO and co-founder Zephrin Lasker says his app began running last summer in quiet beta and is now ready for the masses. At the kickoff, ShopChat is currently working with such brands as Macy’s, Sephora, Guess, and Foot Locker. Since the keyboard works within messaging, there is no need for standalone software. The keyboard still must be downloaded to users’ phones and integrated with their messaging apps.

Lasker says he was inspired by the ubiquity of messaging and chat, seeing a way to interject his company’s keyboard. “When you look at the data, messaging by far is the most heavily used platform at this point,” he says. “It’s even exceeded usage for social media.”

The team behind ShopChat sought to take advantage of that trend. The keyboard introduces users to products while they use their messaging apps — 20 brands are on display at any given time. When they find products they like, they can share them with friends or even shop for the product. A push of button on the mobile keyboard will take them to them to the website for the product. “We don’t yet collect any purchase data, so we don’t yet know how many of those taps are turning into transactions,” Lasker says.

So far, the typical users of the keyboard are female and under 24, which he says correlates with frequent users of Snapchat. Lasker says there is a growing trend among consumers to seek the opinions of friends over the expertise of fashion editors.

When people typically go shopping online, they use search engines to find products directly. ShopChat’s keyboard lets people scroll through and explore an array of items. It can be a challenge, however, to get consumers to consistently embrace new apps or social commerce.

ShopChat CEO Zephrin Lasker

Apps such as WishyBox allow users to put together wish lists they can share with family and friends. A now-defunct app called Go Try It On (acquired by — and its team absorbed into — Rent the Runway) let people share photos of new apparel they were trying in order to get feedback from friends. Meanwhile Swaag is an app for sharing photos of brands with friends, as well as making purchases — but its fate is uncertain with its website dead.

Lasker says social context matters when it comes to users sharing images and links. If someone is already using a platform for sharing, he says, they are more likely to pass something along to their friends. “It’s not about interacting with the technology,” he says, “it’s about how the technology allows you to do something you already wanted to do.”

ShopChat’s investors put $1.25 million into its first funding round, led by Rakuten. As the desired audience has moved from different platforms, Lasker says ShopChat had to adapt fast. “We’ve had to switch from desktop, to mobile, to social, and now messaging,” he says. “There’s been no real way for brands to reach these users.”

Native and inline ads in messaging have had mixed results, Lasker says. He believes ShopChat can introduce brands into conversations among consumers in a more natural way. “Our goal is to make it really easy for people to share new ideas and products and buy them,” he says.

Joao-Pierre Ruth is a Street Fight contributor.